KILKENNY made a successful start to the defence of their Leinster under-21 hurling title, but needed a strong second half charge to see off a valiant Offaly.
Just like in the senior encounter a few weeks earlier the Cats trailed their hosts by a point (0-9 to 0-8) at half-time in Tullamore’s O’Connor Park last night (Wednesday).
However, just like Brian Cody’s team, Richie Mulrooney’s side dug deep to carve out a 1-19 to 1-13 win and book their place in the provincial decider against Wexford on July 10.
That path to victory was started by a goal from sub Michael Brennan, who rattled the net with a sweetly angled shot on 51 minutes, then continued when goalkeeper Aaron Duggan made a fine save to deny Stephen Quirke from a penalty two minutes later.
The save broke Offaly’s spirit, allowing the Cats to shut them out of the game and step on to the final.
Fired up by the in-form Quirke it was Offaly who took a firm grip on proceedings in the first half. Quirke picked off seven points before the interval, Thomas Geraghty two more. John Power was Kilkenny’s scorer in chief, but with full-back Dan Kelleher marshalling a tough defence Offaly held a narrow lead at the break.
Three points on the trot gave Kilkenny the lead within minutes of the restart, but when Quirke drilled a 25 metre free past six men stationed on the line in the 39th minute it was advantage Offaly once more.
Led by Kevin Kelly (0-2) and Power (65) Kilkenny refused to yield, but when Quirke took his tally to 1-10 with a 50th minute free they were still two behind (1-13 to 0-14).
It was all change in the final 10 minutes as Offaly, held scoreless, were over-run. Sparked by Brennan’s goal the Cats roared on, posting five points through Power (2), Ger Aylward, Kelly and Brennan as they sank their hosts.
SCORERS: Kilkenny - John Power (0-10, 0-6 frees, 0-3 65); Michael Brennan (1-1); Kevin Kelly (0-4); Cillian Buckley, Ger Aylward, Shane Donnelly, Richie Reid (0-1 each). Offaly - Stephen Quirke (1-10, 1-7 frees); Thomas Geraghty (0-2); Aodhan Kealey (0-1).